Commentary: Maybe evil is always with us, but we are not powerless

Demons. Nobody ever wants to talk about them.

Evil. Now that’s a different thing. Its abstract. Diffuse. The kind of thing a sophisticated modern can hum and cluck about regretfully before going on with things just the way they were before — well, before the evil thing happened.

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Our own Texas governor contextualized the slaughter in Sutherland Springs with just such a generalized appeal to amorphous “evil” on Fox News. Referring to the Holocaust and the Inquisition and others, he asserted that we need to view this through the long lens of history and understand the fact that “evil is something that has permeated this world.”

It is just a fact of life. “And that the force of evil must be combated with the force of good that is offered by God, and it is so heartwarming to see the people of this community turn to God, turn to hope, turn to the promise of good overcoming evil,” he said.

Can’t argue with that. As a churchman, I believe completely in turning to God, turning to hope and trusting the promise that good will overcome evil.

But all this gauzy talk about evil takes on the air of a discussion of gravity or some other natural law or cosmic property.

What about the agents of evil: the demons. Fact is, you can’t do much about gravity — but if you need to clean the rain gutters, you can get a ladder.

The demons that show up in the Bible have been pretty much pre-empted by the world of psychology and mental health. And our president chose that approach to label this a mental health matter rather than find evidence of demons in the shooter or his acts. But it was just another glossy way of saying: “We can’t really do anything about it.” Crazy guy. You know.

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There’s another view. Walter Wink, among others, wrote extensively about a modern demonology. The powers and principalities of the Bible come into contemporary focus as the disembodied pressures of greed or status or the will to power or fear – all the forces that make a corporation full of people who “just want to do what’s right” turn into a powerhouse fueling global warming and political corruption.

Why mass shootings are such a stereotypically American problem is partly explained in stats compiled by criminology professor Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama in a 2015 study. With 4.4 percent of the world population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns. Between 1966 and 2012, American gunmen accounted for 31 percent of the mass shootings worldwide. There’s more, but it boils down to a matter of convenience. Like the governor said, there is always evil around for motivation.

But some demons have come down on the side of assault rifles:

There’s fear. Fear that “they” want to take your guns away. And then who knows what “they” will do?

There’s money. Every time a mass shooting adds to the tally of pointless death, assault rifle sales spike.

There’s self-reliance — or whatever name you choose for the macho Western man: high in the saddle and free to roam with a gun at his side. You can name a few yourself, I bet – demons great and small who are the agents of the nebulous evil we so powerlessly lament.

But the greatest demon of them all is futility. His message is simple: There’s no point even trying to find a way that hunters can have their sporting weapons and home-defenders theirs — while still ridding the landscape of the assault rifles and high-capacity magazines that have become the tools of choice for this dirtiest of work.

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God dreams of something better for this world — and we are not simply bystanders in that coming about. We have the gifts of love and hope and imagination and discernment. The governor may be right that evil is always with us, but we can overcome futility.

Fritzsche lives in Austin and is interim pastor of Community Fellowship Presbyterian Church of New Braunfels.

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